I recently finished I/O Revision II, a visual novel written en directed by Nakazawa Takumi (Infinity series, KID), developed by Registra and published by Asgard. An English patch was released for this game a while ago by Lemnisca Translations. Because my Japanese is still developing I decided to read the English translation. Because of the complexity of the game I recommend anyone to do the same, unless you’re experienced enough with the Japanese language and your scientific vocabulary is developed enough.
This review does not contain any spoilers.
April 26th, 2032 A.D. – Megalopolis Tokyo – 00:12 in the morning. A total lunar eclipse occurs for the first time in 3 years. Even though it’s supposed to be a simple astronomical phenomenon, it soon sets off a series of unexpected events. Unexplainable mysteries, terrorist incidents, and network crime surge as if in unison. The truth mixes with lies, as if the world is awake but still sleeping. Something has begun. Somewhere no one can see. Something no one knows about…
I think the opening actually describes the journey through the game pretty well. With every route you read, you will understand more of it. I watched it almost every time I started the game. The music composer in I/O is Onoken and character design is done by SOYOSOYO.
I/O is not a kinetic novel but has unlockable routes. You start the game with 4 choices that will guide you through 4 routes; route A – D. You have to play the routes in a certain order to set all route conditions to 1. You can keep track of these with the defrag system, an option in the extra menu. After getting an ending the defrag system will also pop up automatically. Routes A – D all have different main characters. After getting the good ends of each route (A – D) you can unlock route E, which will appear in the main menu. After finishing route E you will unlock a new option in the main menu. The newest option gives access to 5 new routes through 5 choices, route A’ – E’. I kind of saw these routes as “answer arcs”. Again you first have to complete A’ – D’ before you can read E’. Contrary to the first part of the game, route A’-E’ have no choices and are completely linear.
In route A – D you play the game through different characters. All characters in the game have a sprite and voice acting, even when you see the story through their eyes.
Route A – Hinata, a youth who has lost his sister and himself.
Route B – Ishtar, a freelance programmer and leader of a hacker team.
Route C – Ishtar, but seems a bit different from the Ishtar in Route B….
Route D – He, a man completely shrouded in mystery.
It is hard to say something about individual routes or characters for this game so I’ll mostly talk about the whole game. Firstly because you really need all of the routes to completely understand the story and secondly it’s really hard to say something about the characters or routes without spoiling anything.
I thought the overall story was really well made. Although it is a story with a complex setting and requires a lot of concentration while reading, I think all routes fulfilled their purpose. There are a few tags that summarize the concent of the story pretty well.
Mystery: Almost everything that happens in the first routes is a complete mystery to the reader, just like the connection between the routes. During these routes you do get a lot of hints thrown at you which will help you to understand the game in the end. It’s important to pay attention while reading or you might miss something. The end of the game is not an open book, you have to rely on the knowledge you’ve gained during the game to understand the conclusion. But don’t be afraid, the game gives you enough opportunities to gain this knowledge.
Mind screw/Hard science fiction: The combination of these two tags is what makes the game better than average mind screw and actually understandable. This game uses a lot of terms and quotes from maybe the most discussed and difficult literature there might be; the bible and quantum physics. The quantum theory is a subject that is hard to wrap your mind around in general. It requires you to think in theories, or you won’t be able to apply the rules that solve the unknown. A simple example is asking for the definition of light. These subjects are often used in mind screw stories, because they just are.. mind screwing subjects.
Just like your average hard science fiction novel this game is focused on technical detail and scientific accuracy. Even though this game has a lot of difficult terms, they also try to explain them to the reader, because they want you to understand them. They also added a linked ingame dictionary which allows you to easily reread the definition of a term at any time. Besides that, you also actually have to click all the highlighted words that are linked to the dictionary to 100% the game.
Cyberpunk: The story of I/O is set in the near future. There are options to inplant hardware into your brain so you can connect to the internet or 「cyberworld」 in an instant. This also makes games like MMORPG’s a real experience like in I/O is the case with the MMORPG 「Babylon」. I/O revolves a lot around this MMORPG and also around hacking. The computer technology in the world has gone so far even humans can’t comprehend it anymore. Something is born, something that is not allowed to exist yet.
Music: Every track I heard was fitting for its scene. If you hear the music you will probably also remember the scenes it was played in. The variety in the tracks was also good, you never heard a lot of the same. My compliments to Onoken for the wonderful music, 「load」 and 「Stack」were my favorites.
System: The defrag system guides you through the routes and also shows if you unlocked a new route, so it really helps you to find your way through the game. Of course there is also a good walkthrough you can use. I would recommend this if you want to 100% complete the game. The way routes are unlocked and viewed from different perspectives is one of my favorites. I like how every route gives you a lot of new information in a new storypart.
Characters: I think this really depends on opinion but I consider it one of the best points because I didn’t dislike a single character in the game. I read some people think the character development for Aoi Hinata lacks through the rest of the game compared to other characters. I have to say this didn’t bother me that much, because I didn’t really feel the need to get more information about him. None of the characters you meet were left undeveloped.
Complexity of the game: If you like visual novels with a lot of mystery and a complex plot that urges you to think for yourself, then this really is part of the best points of the game. The game really tries to make every used word as clear as possible. Another thing that I thought was really nice is the feature you unlock after finishing the game (after route E’). Reading through the information in there will gather all your gained knowledge and put it in place. It is kind of like a summary of the story, it helps you understand the game.
Art: You may love or hate it. The only thing that I noticed was that the sprites don’t have many expressions. For example, if the voice of a character sounds really sad or the character is actually crying, the sprite is not crying at all but instead just continues to give a surprised face. This was the only thing that bothered me sometimes.
Complexity of the game: Of course this can be seen as a lesser point too for certain people. A general complaint I read was that people felt the writers added unnecessary information that didn’t contribute to the game and just made it sound more complex or the sake of being complex. This is a pity because I think this is a sign that the complexity makes some people unable to see the complete picture. I think every “complex” term that was introduced in this game is just another hint that might cause YOU to find the answer to the mysteries. In the end you shouldn’t have any or only a few questions left.
My rating: 9.5/10
Should you read this visual novel?
If you like a mysterious story that is set in a cyberworld were people do everything via internet – yes.
If you don’t like to concentrate while reading but just want to relax and read a nice story – no.
If you like the infinity series – warning, it is different: there is no revealing true route but I can recommend you this if you like cyberpunk and don’t mind hard scifi.